Diving In! Running a Product Management Workshop for Non-PMs

For Indeed’s summer hackathon, I led a Product Management workshop for non-product-managers in our San Francisco office. My goal was to encourage creativity, agility, and startup-style thinking. I wanted our technical team members to consider the business side of making products.

Our workshop theme was Shark Tank. Attendees formed teams, and each team had to come up with a problem, target audience, solution, and business model. They pitched to the judges — product managers (AKA sharks) — and a winner was chosen. In keeping with the theme, we named each team after a fish: minnow, clown fish, goldfish, piranha, and Magikarp.

Photo by Silas Hao on Unsplash

This post describes our event. I encourage you to lead a similar workshop. Give people in your company the opportunity to build their own business and swim with the sharks.

Workshop logistics

Time frame

For a workshop like this, I recommend two hours. This gives teams enough time to come up with and vet their ideas and then present them. The time breaks down as follows:

  • Problem exploration and definition: 30 minutes
  • Introduction to the minimum viable product (MVP): 10 minutes
  • Solution exploration, mockups, and pricing: 50 minutes
  • Pitches: 30 minutes

Participants

  • One person to lead the workshop, ideally a product manager.
  • Product managers as teaching assistants can answer quick questions and help attendees explore product ideas and problems, brainstorm solutions, discuss pricing, and talk about other aspects of product management. Project manager TAs also work great as sharks — the final judges.
  • Engineers and QA can benefit by becoming familiar with this process.
  • Anyone else interested in learning about product management and new product development will benefit, and will almost certainly have a fun time, too.

Materials

  • Notebooks
  • Pens/pencils
  • UX workbooks (optional). We had notebooks with blank user interfaces — for web and mobile — printed on the paper. This is great for a UX workshop or UI/UX exercise. UI Stencils offers a sketchpad.
  • Not needed: Laptops. Please leave your laptops at your desk for this workshop!

Workshop format

We organized our workshop in the following order:

We divided attendees up into teams. Three to five people per team was a good number. Instead of allowing participants to pick their own team, select for them. This gives them the opportunity to work with new people.

PMs spoke briefly about ways to come up with a problem. Some questions for discussion were:

  • What are problems that impact your everyday life?
  • What are problems that annoy or bother you?
  • Who else is impacted by this problem?
  • What is a problem you would pay to have solved?
  • What is annoying about this problem?

We gave the teams 10 minutes to brainstorm a number of problems. PM TAs walked around and sat with each team to help them expand on the problems.

After the teams developed their list of problems, we encouraged participants to focus on very specific problems. Examples of companies that grew out of specific problems are:

  • Airbnb was created to solve the problem of finding a place to stay during a convention
  • Facebook was created to solve the problem of staying in touch with friends from college
  • Spotify was created to solve the problem of discovering new music

When each team had landed on a well-defined problem, they evaluated who was impacted by the problem. Questions along this path included:

  • Who would be willing to pay to solve this problem? Often the buyer is not the person impacted by the problem; nor would they need to use the product (e.g., think of a CRM like Salesforce).
  • Why does this person care about this problem?
  • How much of a pain point is this problem? Is it big enough?

After each team defined clear problems and the people who experience them, I provided an overview of lean product philosophy. We discussed The Lean Startup and lean methodology. We encouraged teams to come up with an idea that they could execute and test quickly. We then discussed principles of lean startup, such as MVP, experimenting and learning quickly, and validating the idea in the market.

Next, teams developed their product ideas. We introduced these pertinent questions:

  • How can you quickly test and validate this solution?
  • How can you see if people will pay for this solution?
  • What is the MVP for your solution?
  • Who are your users? Who are your buyers?
  • How will people find your product? How will your product be distributed/sold?
  • How will you make money?

We encouraged teams to mock up ideas on the UI sketch paper. Note that there probably isn’t sufficient time to develop full mockups during the workshop. We shared these main UX points:

  • Consider other products the user might be familiar with. Your product will be difficult to use if familiar buttons are in unfamiliar places.
  • What other current products might be competitors to your solution? Consider the pluses and minuses of their UI/UX.
  • What are products you love? What are they doing right?
  • What features are necessary and what are better in a later version?

We briefly discussed pricing and distribution. We wanted to guide the teams to think about how this business and solution would make money.

Teams presented their solutions.

The sharks asked follow-up questions.

PMs voted to select a winner. Finally, each PM voted for a team and explained their choice, then together they selected the winning team. Prizes can be fun — such as one of the books discussed in the workshop.

The results

Our workshop was a success! Our teams came up with unique ideas, including:

  • Tooth Fairy, a denture rental service
  • A medical marijuana discovery platform
  • RateMyResume, a resume rating service
  • Just Buy It, an affiliate buying site for Amazon that shows you the best product to buy
  • Travel Buddy, an app that connects you with someone to show you around when you travel

After the workshop, I surveyed attendees. The workshop received a rating of 4.6 out of 5, marking it a pretty strong success. Eighty percent of attendees felt that they had learned a lot.

Attendees found this workshop useful for exposing them to how new products and solutions are developed and discovered. The workshop also compelled technical team members in particular to think about the business side: How can we make money? Who will pay for this product?

Attendees were interested in similar hands-on workshops on topics such as UX/UI and marketing. Other product managers suggested leading the workshop with more of a framework, such as Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas.

You can host your own workshop!

We’re interested in hearing about how others fare with this method. Please comment with your ideas and experiences.